Heck says immigration reform ‘on life support’

U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said Friday there’s still a chance Congress will pass immigration reform this year although “it’s on life support.”

Heck said he supports fixing the immigration system by giving an estimated 11 million who immigrated here illegally a pathway to U.S. citizenship. But he doesn’t agree with all the parts of a U.S. Senate bill that passed a year ago Friday to reform immigration by shoring up the nation’s borders and offering more work and study visas.

He said various House committees have passed five immigration reform bills, yet the GOP leadership has refused to bring them to the floor for a vote. Heck and other pro-reform Republicans have expressed frustration at the lack of House action.

This week, both Republican and Democratic leaders have said it appears immigration reform is dead as election year politics makes it more difficult for vulnerable Republicans to back such measures.

“I think it’s on life support,” Heck said in an interview when asked if immigration reform is dead this year. “I’m not going to say that we’re not eventually going to have something done. … We’re still trying.”

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said she, too, will continue to press for immigration reform. She also slammed House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for threatening to sue President Barack Obama over executive actions he has taken, including giving legal status to children of whose parents immigrated illegally under his Deferred Action for Children Arrivals.

“I think it’s just a waste of tax-payer dollars,” Titus said. “I think the president is following the law and the Constitution, but they are primarily focusing on his DACA provision, his extension of protection to students who came here as children. They are just as American as anybody else, but people who are anti-immigration reform are opposed to that.”

Boehner and other anti-immigration reform elected officials are trying to blame DACA for the problem of all the young children from Central America who are coming across the border, Titus said.

Titus said her office has been helping immigrants, including reuniting Orlando Mata, a 27-year-old U.S. citizen, with his wife, Ivonne Cruz Serrano, 24, and their 2-year-old daughter Laila.

Mata had petitioned for his wife and daughter to come to the U.S. as they were living in Michoacán, where there’s a lot of violence. He was told it would take 18 months, but through the help he received from Titus’ office, the process only took four months. They were able to reunite about a month ago.

“We are very happy, very happy like a family once again,” he said in Spanish .

Manuel Guillermo Olivares, 17, was able to apply for DACA two weeks ago, also with the help of Titus’ office. He recently graduated from Western High School and is planning to attend the College of Southern Nevada.

“I think it’s going to give me a better lifestyle,” he said.

Because it’s an election year, immigration has become a big issue in congressional races.

Heck’s re-election opponent, Democrat Erin Bilbray, on Friday once again accused Heck of being anti-immigration.

“Joe Heck is more intent on protecting his out-of-state, billionaire super-PAC friends than families in Southern Nevada that are being torn apart every day by our immigration policies,” Bilbray said in a statement. “After a year of excuses, inaction and talking out of both sides of their mouth on immigration reform it is time for Congressman Heck and the Republican leadership to act on immigration reform.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also launched a web ad slamming Heck on immigration.

Heck said he is used to such attacks, which he called misleading.

He added that he understood pro-immigration reform advocates who have also aimed their criticism at him, including by protesting outside and inside his official office in Southern Nevada.

“I understand they want me to move faster,” Heck said, explaining that he will back bills that include his principles for supporting immigration reform.

“I had high hopes” earlier this year, he said. “I still think there’s a window of opportunity.”

Heck’s comments came in an interview after he visited a Las Vegas business and had won the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The business, NZymes, sells supplemental nutrition to pets. The family-run company has 12 employees and about $2.5 million in annual revenue, and moved to Nevada 10 years ago from California to escape high taxes and other costs.

Company leaders told Heck their business was being strangled by too many federal government regulations — something both Heck and the chamber oppose.

Review-Journal reporter Yesenia Amaro contributed to this story. Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.